The eighth annual Napa Valley Film Festival, which takes place Nov. 7-11, continues to have a lot going for it. Beyond top-notch meals and wine from 50 chefs and 75 wineries, the festival has 10 screening venues for 100 new independent films starring the likes of Natalie Portman, Willem Dafoe and Helena Bonham Carter.
“It’s the party of the year,” says Brenda Lhormer, the festival’s co-founder/director, of the nearly week-long event that will be held at various Napa Valley landmarks including the Cameo Cinema, Charles Krug Winery, Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch, Jam Cellars Ballroom at the Margrit Mondavi Theater, Lincoln Theater, Native Sons, Uptown Theater, the Archer Hotel Napa, Las Alcobas Napa Valley and the Drive-In at the Napa County Fairgrounds.
“It’s really fun,” she says. “It’s a wonderful mix of great films and food and wine and culinary offerings.”
The festival will open with Jason Reitman’s “The Front Runner” during a Sneak Preview Night on Nov. 6. The film stars Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga, J.K. Simmons and Alfred Molina, and follows former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart’s 1988 presidential campaign. The following night — the official opening night — will feature Peter Farrelly’s “Green Book” starring Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali and Linda Cardellini. The festival will close Nov. 11 with HBO Films’ documentary “Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind” directed by Marina Zenovich.
The festival will also include special events such as a gala, with a musical performance by Billy Bob Thornton & the Boxmasters, as well as various VIP receptions, dinners and filmmaker-chef demonstrations.
“We’ve added a much more robust culinary program into the festival,” says Lhormer. “We really are serious about curating our culinary demonstrations as much as we are curating the actual film program. We want the demonstrations to be rooted in some of the films that we’re showing, which usually means most of the films have something to do with film or wine or spirits.”
Other events include the festival’s celebrity tributes program, which will honor Laurence Fishburne with the Charles Krug Legendary Actor Award on Nov. 8 at the Lincoln Theater in Yountville. Billy Bob Thornton will be honored with the Caldwell Vineyard Maverick award, while Alice Eve is receiving the Raymond Vineyards Trailblazer award.
The festival is also singling out the Groundlings Theater and School with the Miner Family Winery Legacy Ensemble award. Groundlings alums Taran Killam and Cheri Oteri will accept the award. That same evening, Geena Davis will receive the Davis Estates Visionary Tribute. On Nov. 10, the festival’s second-annual Rising Stars Showcase will honor fresh faces including Taissa Farmiga, Billy Magnussen, Camila Mendes, Rosa Salazar, Tye Sheridan and Alexandra Shipp.
The festival is also creating a pop-up drive-in movie theater at the fairgrounds in Calistoga. “Curating the movies for that was a fun exercise too,” says Lhormer. “It’s like, ‘What movies will be really great for people who are sitting out in that field, looking at the sky, the mountains, and the stars while watching the films?’ We always challenge ourselves to create something new and different. This is the Napa Valley Film Festival. You’re not going to get this anywhere else.”
Other films in the festival mix include “A Private War,” directed by Matthew Heineman with Rosamund Pike; Julian Schnabel’s “At Eternity’s Gate,” starring Willem Dafoe and Oscar Isaac; “Capernaum,” directed by Nadine Labaki with Michel Merkt and Khaled Mouzanar producing; “Devil’s Garden,” directed by Victoria Bergqvist and Scott Powers; “Do You Trust This Computer?,” directed by Chris Paine; “High-Sensitive Youth in the Horse-Heart-Space,” directed by Jolanda Ellenberger; “Never Look Away,” directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck and starring Tom Schilling; “Pick of the Litter,” directed by Don Hardy Jr. and Dana Nachman; “Sharkwater Extinction,” directed by Rob Stewart; “The Biggest Little Farm,” directed by John Chester; “Uncrushable,” from chef/Food Network star Tyler Florence; Matthew Carnahan’s “Valley of the Boom,” which was produced by Arianna Huffington and stars Bradley Whitford and Lamorne Morris; “Vox Lux,” directed by Brady Corbet with Natalie Portman and Jude Law; and Jeremy Rush’s “Wheelman,” starring Frank Grillo.
“We are literally integrating everything that is well-known and beloved about Napa Valley into every aspect of the festival,” Lhormer says. “And of course, you’re drinking wine while you’re watching the movies. The events are these over-the-top experiences.”